By: Chris Mackey
In 2016, a report released by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health “Public Health 3.0: A Call to Action to Create a 21st Century Public Health Infrastructure” announced a new direction for the practice of public health and population health promotion. Public Health 3.0 formally recognized that health results from an intersection of various factors and that healthy communities are only created through cross-sector collaboration. It has long been a practice within the field to create policy, program, systems, and environmental (PPSE) change through community health coalitions but often the voice and perspectives of people with disabilities is overlooked. As the nation’s largest minority group (that is growing as the population ages), it is imperative that community-wide health initiatives include the dimension of disability as they look to address other aspects of diversity. Thoughtfully and actively recruiting people with disabilities and having strategies in place to sustain that inclusive focus over time is important.
Consider Your Membership
So how does a community health coalition include the voices of people with disabilities? Active recruitment is essential of course, but you have to thoughtfully consider who to invite. One way to think about various stakeholders that could increase your focus on inclusion is to consider the following groups:
- Target Users: The programs/organizations who will implement the inclusive strategies. If you’re trying to improve access to healthy food in your community, you have to involve farmers market operators, grocery stores, and corner store owners.
- Recipients: People with disabilities who receive the inclusive services by the target users. These are the potential customers, participants, or those with disabilities who will benefit from the coalition’s work.
- Other Stakeholders: People or organizations who are interested in the inclusive strategies, either because they may use them, or they have a stake in the implementation or the outcomes. For example, staff from Centers for Independent Living cannot only offer expertise around accessibility and inclusion but also serve the aforementioned recipients of your coalition’s efforts.
Whether it’s through the organizations or the individuals that you invite, it’s critical that—to the fullest extent possible – your approach to recruitment has a cross-disability focus. Your coalition should be able to address the needs of people with sensory, intellectual, mental health, mobility, and intellectual limitations.
Sustaining an Inclusive Focus
All too often coalitions that consider the needs of people with disabilities do so at the urging of a particular partner from the disability community with a vested interest in the group’s work. When that partner leaves though, the coalition can lose its focus on people with disabilities over time. As early as possible, a healthy community coalition should be thinking of inclusion of people with disabilities as part of its long-term, sustainability planning. Ensuring a long-term, sustainable focus on inclusion may be one or several of the following:
- Developing and implementing policy, systems, and environmental change strategies. Coalitions that think inclusively should study current policy strategies to determine their level of inclusion and how they can be made more inclusive of all community members. Coalitions should also strive to ensure that future policy decisions emphasize inclusion to impact the entire population.
- Building and keeping strong partnerships. Involvement of and relationships with community members with disabilities or disability organizations over time is again a critical point to ensure that your work addresses the needs of people with disabilities in a relevant way.
- Establishing a home for your Inclusive Healthy Communities work. Does your coalition have a base of operations? Does this organization incorporate inclusion into its own policies or support people with disabilities in other ways? Is there physical access to the location (including access by public transportation?) These are just some of the questions to consider when developing your healthy community.
- Building coalition members’ skills. What do your coalition members need or want to know about including people with disabilities? What kind of training needs might they have? Finding opportunities for membership to build its skills around accessibility, effective communication, or other topics related to inclusion will encourage all members to address inclusion of people with disabilities in both the work of the coalition and their own organization.
- Developing communication and social marketing strategies. Communication strategies, whether they’re intended to guide the work of the coalition or inform external audiences, should be offered through a variety of the most accessible means. Social marketing strategies should also target and consider people with disabilities. To effectively target towards those with disabilities in your community, you must understand both what forms of communication are and are not accessible and which of those methods are most often used by them. An effective social marketing plan that includes people with disabilities should be able to foster behavior change and improve the health of the target population.
A Word about Sustainability Planning
Seeing that your coalition remains relevant over time requires formalized planning that can include using the various approaches that were mentioned above. In NCHPAD’s Community Health Inclusion Sustainability Planning guide (CHISP), a companion piece to the CDC’s Sustainability Planning Guide for Healthy Communities, offers a 10-step process for inclusive health coalitions to create, implement, and revise a plan for sustaining their efforts while keeping the focus on including people with disabilities at the forefront.